Transplant patient competing in World Transplant Games
By Ginger Livingston
Saturday, August 17, 2019
A Greenville kidney transplant survivor hopes her participation in the 2019 World Transplant Games encourages people not only to become organ donors but to live their best lives.
Phelicia Price, a yoga instructor and economics instructor with an online university, rarely let things stop her from pursuing her passions.
But after being diagnosed with kidney failure in 2010, and undergoing a transplant in 2016, she is even more determined to pursue the things she loves and challenge herself as an athlete and advocate.
This resolution led Price and her mother to Newcastle, in the United Kingdom, to participate in the 2019 World Transplant Games. Price will be competing in track and field along with multiple cultural events that are held during the seven-day event, which begins today with opening ceremonies.
"Life is short. It’s very definitive. Life. Is. Short. My friends and I were talking about it and I say, 'I was just at cheerleading practice. I was just 16,'” said Price, who celebrates her 40th birthday in December. “Live your life to the fullest. It sounds cliché, but don’t wait until something happens to live that way.”
The World Transplant Games were launched in 1978 to increase awareness about the need for more organ donors and to encourage recipients to pursue a healthy lifestyle through sports and exercise.
More than 2,500 competitors from 70 countries are expected to compete in this year's summer games. Everyone from elite athletes to weekend competitors are encouraged to participate. There also also competitions for living donors.
Price has always been an active person. She was a cheerleader in high school and coached cheer teams while attending East Carolina University. She’s always loved dancing, taking whatever classes were available. She was on a step dance team in college and was a member of her church’s liturgical dance group. She also was a swimmer.
“I wasn’t a gym rat; I did movement for my enjoyment,” she said.
Price was nearing her 31st birthday when she learned about her illness. She had spent her 20s working in banking but at times found herself unemployed because of mergers. She often was without health insurance so she didn’t get routine medical exams. She didn’t think much about it because she was active.
Unknown to Price, she had high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, more than 40 percent of non-Hispanic, African-American men and women have high blood pressure, which develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.
When Price first was diagnosed, her kidneys were only functioning at 20 percent their normal capacity. Her doctors warned she would need to start dialysis within the next 18 months. However, she adopted a low-phosphorous, low-potassium diet and went six years before needing dialysis.
Price told no one outside her immediate family and close friends about her diagnosis for a long time. That was because when she told her sorority sisters about her illness, everyone started crying.
“I said I can’t keep doing this, if every time I tell someone they start crying I can’t keep doing it,” Price said. She reasoned that she didn’t look ill and other than changing her diet her lifestyle remained unchanged.
“I stayed moving but as the years progressed I started tiring,” she said. During a 2015 trip to Dubai, Price couldn’t keep up with her friends. She started dialysis in January 2016.
It was about this time a cousin urged her to share her illness on social media in an effort to find a donor.
Price was overwhelmed by how many family members and friends volunteered to be tested. One friend was one test away from being approved as a match until doctors learned about a medical condition in his family. Health issues also eliminated others from consideration.
Price said as her condition worsened she took up meditation to quiet her mind and to maintain a positive focus.
"That’s where things start, the seeds planted in your mind,” she said.
A cousin, Dean Price, eventually became her donor and she received his kidney on May 5, 2016.
Price's doctors had warned her that she could gain up to 30 pounds between the immunosuppressants she needed to prevent rejection and the inactivity that came during recovery. Because of her diet and dialysis treatment, Price had lost weight and wanted to gain about 15 pounds, she said.
Three months into her recovery, Price wanted to be more mindful in managing her weight and decided she needed to become physically active again.
"Even though I had been through my recovery I knew three months post transplant I couldn’t just up and jump and run a marathon so I thought yoga was the best way to build myself up slowly,” she said.
Eventually one of her yoga teachers asked if she thought about becoming a yoga teacher and Price took up the challenge. Over the last two years, she's become a 500-hour registered yoga teacher and teachers classes at various locations throughout Greenville.
Becoming a yoga made her want to do other activities. When she learned about the Transplant Games of America, Price said she had her next challenge, and participated in the 2018 games in Salt Lake City.
Price didn't win any medals but focus was more on being happy to be alive and being with so many other people who were alive, she said. When she learned about the world games, Price said she knew she would compete.
"I am competitive and I would absolutely love to place, I would to get a medal,” she said. “But since this my first world games, I don’t know what the mindset is. Is this were people have trained for six months? Or is it we are just so happy to be alive we just come and run. We’ll just see what happens when we get there.”
When Price returns home next week she will continue using her experience to benefit others. She's part of Healthy Lives Healthy Choices, a group that visits local churches monthly to discuss health disparities and offer health screening such as glucose checks. She also gives speeches about the need for organ donation.
“The beautiful thing about a living donor is the moment Dean gave me his kidney it took me off the (transplant) list and moved someone else up,” she said. However, about two-thirds of kidneys used in transplants come from deceased donors, according to the Mayo Clinic's website.
“The reality is 95 percent of Americans believe in organ donation but only 55 percent are registered," she said.
Becoming an organ donor in North Carolina is easy. Individuals can designate their intention to donate on their drivers license. They can include the wishes in their health care power of attorney and make their wishes known to family members. They also can register at https://www.donatelifenc.org.